Wednesday, March 10, 2010

May levy vote unlikely

Financial support for Blaine Manor still uncertain


By JON DUVAL
Express Staff Writer

After hosting a pair of public hearings last week, the Blaine County Commission remains uncertain as to its plans for the Blaine Manor assisted care facility in Hailey.

Though attendees at the meetings, held last Wednesday and Thursday, offered plenty of support for Blaine Manor, a solution has yet to be found as to how the county can cover the approximately $700,000 it spends annually to cover the facility's operating deficit.

One of the options being weighed, which precipitated the meetings, is a possible property tax levy override that would be put to a vote by county residents in either May, August or next year.

No exact amount has been suggested, but the commissioners have said that a levy would likely fall in the range of $700,000 to $1 million. A $700,000 levy would translate to property owners' paying $6.34 per $100,000 in property value annually.

In an interview Monday, Commissioner Angenie McCleary said it's highly unlikely that the county would put a levy on the May ballot, as there would be very little time to fully inform the public about the issue. To get the levy on the May 25 ballot, the commission would need to make a decision by the end of next week.

McCleary said the commission will probably make a final decision on the possibility of a May vote at its regular meeting Tuesday, March 16. She said discussions on whether to hold a levy vote in August would continue.

"I don't think having an August election solves some of our bigger problems," she said. "It's still a little rushed."

McCleary said that before moving forward with a levy, the county should decide on what role it should have in supporting senior care.

Commissioner Tom Bowman said during a regular meeting last week that there have been declines in three major sources of county revenue—fees received through the Planning and Zoning Department, the return on county financial investments and the county's portion of shared state revenue.

Members of the public, filling up the Old County Courthouse in Hailey, urged the commissioners to continue funding Blaine Manor even if the levy does not make it on the ballot in time for the 2010-11 fiscal year or if it fails.

"We've received a lot of suggestions about how to cut the budget [without cutting funding to Blaine Manor]," McCleary said.

Bowman said last week that if the county does decide to continue funding Blaine Manor at its current rate, it would likely have to cut or reduce expenditures on other services that the state does not require the county to fund. Those could include cuts to the Senior Connection, Mountain Rides Transportation Authority, the nonprofit Hunger Coalition and the Advocates, a nonprofit group that offers services to victims of abuse and sexual assault.

The Croy Canyon Ranch Foundation's planned senior care facility west of Hailey, slated to replace Blaine Manor as soon as mid-2012, is also having an impact on the levy discussion.

The foundation requested that the county defer the levy for at least a year to better educate the public about the role Blaine Manor plays in the community and to continue raising funds for the new facility. The foundation has raised just over $3 million. Construction of the new facility is dependent on the foundation's raising $13 million of the 75,000-square-foot facility's estimated $31 million cost.

The commissioners have expressed concern about bringing forward a levy without knowing exactly how long Blaine Manor would need to be funded before the Croy Canyon facility is in operation.

Jon Duval: jduval@mtexpress.com




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